As a spanking new press with one publication–Burning Silk, my first novel in the Textile Trilogy–and another in the pipeline, going to Europe to attend the Frankfurt Book Fair would have been a case of the intent of our grasp exceeding our reach.
But since I was already going to be in Europe as a presenter at an academic colloquium on The Woodstock Years, 1965-75 at Le Havre University, and had exchanged my home in Berkeley for ten days in a canal house in Amsterdam to work on and research my second book, Linen Shroud, we decided to attend the Frankfurter Buch Messe, where the greatest cost was the hotel room (178 euros/night for a hostel.)
Reportedly 20K book professionals participate in what is styled as the world’s biggest book fair. Does this include the 10K members of the press? It certainly doesn’t include the public whose number reportedly swell into six figures.
Gratefully, Not Everyone Speaks English Yet…
And if they do, they often prefer to converse in their own language. My former neighbor and friend in Berkeley Inke Schwab, who had returned to her native Germany four years earlier, responded to my offer of a shared adventure. Inke, being trilingual, proved to be an immense asset in negotiating the complexities of the fair, a challenge not only linguistic but also deeply cultural.
Proximity to the Past
On Monday and Tuesday, we drove up into the hills 100 kilometers beyond Frankfurt into the Vogelsberg–as dotted with windmills as a Miyazaki fantasy film–where my relations through my immigrant great grandmother still live in our ancestral village. In Rebgeshain, perhaps three hundred households, people are most likely to marry someone from the village or from the next village. (This observation gives rise to the aphorism: Die besten stecken findet man in der hahesten hecken [sic] which translates loosely: If you’re looking for a walking stick, find it in your own hedge.) This accounts for the remarkable fact, as my German friends tell me, that my first letter addressed to this family ten years ago, bore on the envelope only a century old photo of the original house, the family name Ruppel and the village name. It had arrived safely to tell of my impending visit.
In the intervening decade, our family genealogist Bill Sackinger from Alaska, fluent in German, had visited annually to cement relations and comb through church records. This would be my second visit, announced long distance by a German friend who referred to me as the “instigator.” I carried a secret weapon this time: Inke Schwab.